Tag Archives: Strange Wetlands

Teen Moose

Three times I have spotted a young moose in my backyard. This teen-moose is a curious bull, growing his first pair of antlers that resemble horns without branches. He stands not ten yards from the house. When I first saw him, I was confused. He looks like a cross between a hyena and a double-decker deer. He has mahogany-colored matted hair (that’s hollow, I learned later) and his dogged ears rotate 180° so that he can locate predators, even if they are far away. He’s a vegetarian, sensitive to his environment and willing to defend a cow. (But rutting season is not until September.) http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/moose/

I grew up in Maine but I had previously seen a moose only twice before in my life: Once, while riding in my dad’s old car through northern Maine when I was about ten, Dad said, “A big Buick bombin’ down the road better brake for a bull moose.” And then we saw one.  Fifteen years later, while working for Acadia National Park, I saw a moose standing over the edge of the embankment of the famed Sargent Drive, peering into Somes Sound. She swam away.

The young bull moose has joined the motley crew of usual suspects at my home, Nixie’s Vale, and his presence is accented by the cries of the fabled coydogs and eerie calls of loons.

In my dreams, he is older. A bull moose lurks large and puffing, ten feet tall, more than twice my height. He looms and nudges me gently with his horsey nose-face. He’s unpredictable, unassuming. Not evil but not Mr. Safe Guy either.  The dream dictionary tells me that a bull moose represents “runaway emotions” that might trample me. Apparently a moose in a dream stands for masculine, or yang, energy, and the ability to survive and prosper under any circumstances by means of steady movement forward through life. An elk, or bull moose, refers a dreamer to one’s elders. Moose in dreams represent a long life and longevity.

The young moose probably likes the lichen in my woods and the marshy plants that grow in the nearby pond. He’ll dunk his whole head underwater and browse. His family might be with him but I’ve never seen them. His shoulders will expand to more than five feet across and he’ll be 1000 pounds by next winter. He’s going through the moose equivalent of puberty with the pitch changes in his kazoo-voice, bluffing like the shaggy bell under his chin.

In my moose dream:  I move away as he lumbers toward me like a star-struck dancer. He’s clumsy. When I told my friend about the dreams, she sang: “It moose be loooooove!” I look for the real moose early each morning as the mist rolls across the pond.

Oddly Common Wetland Indicators

As I surveyed my seep and determined the damage from winter storms—which trees toppled over in an arch or flattened wild grapes, I also found a half-buried lawn mower, an old tire, part of a metal rowboat and a paint can wedged under a stone wall. I have decided to make use of some of these strange artifacts for a sunken garden. They are after all common indicators for wetlands.

For decades, scientists have tracked the migration of shopping carts (Grocer currus) from urban areas to wetlands. In one recent pilot study, wetland scientists reintroduced the endangered shopping cart, which has been historically held in captivity at local food marts, to a stand of hot sedge (Carex lupulina). The common white bag (Sacco albus) has been spotted in numerous wetlands with few habitat restraints, as it does not seem to require anything to roost in both vegetative and nonvegetative areas. A large inactive docile predator, typically referred to as the old tire (Defessus antiquus) rolls into streams, rivers and estuaries, preferring sluggish waterways, seemingly unaided by breeding populations of abandoned excavator equipment (Effidio paratus). For a funny video, go to:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=peZRiphnOwE

In addition to traditional field guides, check out The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Guide to Field Identification by Julian Montague (2006), who documents the eerie sightings of the metal migrants in colorful photographs:

Not surprisingly, under human influence, cranes will dance on command. See “Big Machines Dancing” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JYzAJviXr0Y&feature=PlayList&p=DA4887DBDE40258D&playnext_from=
 But when left to its own devices, it’s a sad tale when an excavator must be pulled out of a wetland http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TDjQOyVULUs

Other wetland indicators include the elusive failed storm drainage pipe (Adficio deficio)and the invasive soft drink can (Imbibo aluminus), although more research is needed to determine whether their presence has anything to do with the growing problem of runaway trash cans.

Mark Trail – What a Guy!

Mark Trail is my ideal man. He loves the outdoors—fishing, watching wildlife, whitewater rafting, blazing a trail through the woods. Mark Trail was an “environmentalist” long before it was cool to be one. He’s got well-established values but he’s also a forward-thinker. An old soul, forever 32. He’s a writer *swoon* and always getting into dangerous adventures. Often he discovers some kind of environmental crime and solves the mystery (sometimes punching the bad guy!) He loves animals, wetlands and hardheaded women. And did I mention his muscular arms and dashing good looks? Mark’s got that plucky hands-on-hips quality that makes me drool. Oh, wait, he’s married. Wait again, he’s a character from a comic strip. I always fall for the imaginary guys.

“Mark Trail,” a comic strip created by artist and naturalist Ed Dodd, later joined by Jack Elrod,  has been teaching people about the importance of protecting natural resources since the 1950s. Wetlands are one of Mark’s biggest passions. In a recent newspaper, I came across this comic that highlights the duck stamp program.

Apparently, the artists’ inspiration for the character came from the real life conservation hero, Charles N. Elliott (November 29, 1906 – May 1, 2000), a U.S. forest ranger who edited Outdoor Life magazine from 1956 to 1974. Mark Trail comics have been used in FWS publications to help educate children about conservation. The comic strip is featured in the cartoon section of 176 newspapers across the country.

For more information, check out the comic strip here:


Mark Trail

Things that Slither and Snap

I’ve met plenty of people who share my ophidiophobia. But few can rival me with real-life encounters like I’ve had with snakes. Have you ever worn a cobra on your head so that its fangs face your face as you break an expensive lamp to get free? Well, I didn’t put it there! How about coming head to head with a pet python as it cruised out from under the couch while you were babysitting? Trapped in an outhouse with a black racer? Startled seven snakes on an island—where no one had seen snakes in forty years? Ran across water to race a freaked-out snake to the shore? What about having a garter snake speed up your pant leg the very first time you wore bellbottoms and sprawled in a field to daydream? Stupidly volunteered at the cool “rainforest” exhibit at the Boston Aquarium, only to be one of several volunteers holding a very long constrictor? It’s possible that having been born the year of the snake tipped the scales in favor of running into more than my fair share. I don’t want to hurt them; I just want to avoid them—and I attract them like I’m the Snake Whisperer. I often wonder about people working in wetlands – how they feel about things that slither and snap – if it worries them, too. These recent stories are a testimony, in a way, to the bravery (and curiosity) of Wetlanders out there. I admire them. But I agree with the editorial at the end of the list –wild animals belong in the wild, not kept as pets.

Dead Gators Make Strange Bedfellows – Possibly the Weirdest Wetland Story of the Year (GA) (August 2009) It’s a rare occasion these days when the anti-hunting crowd finds itself allied with some of the finest outdoorsmen… http://blogs.augusta.com/

One spectator can’t tell if these two gators are mating or fighting in July 2009:http://www.floridahikes.com/blog/2009/07/14/gator-rumble-at-green-cay-wetlands/

Gators’ populations declined in wetlands after Hurricane Ike this past summer:

Gators? Snakes? No fear, say Lutheran Teens Planting Wetlands (August and July 2009)

Biologist Eric Hansen carries on his father’s legacy of preserving a threatened Central Valley snake (CA September 2009)http://www.lodinews.com/articles/2009/09/26/news/1_hansen_090926.txt#

Wildlife research assists training at Camp Shelby in MS (September 2009)
Snakes and tortoises implanted with radio transmitters.http://www.clarionledger.com/article/20090917/NEWS/909170360/1001/news

Louisiana Honey Swamp Gator Wetlands Tour (photos)

Editorial: Wild Animals Belong in the Wild (September 2009)


Eco-art is a fresh movement led by artists seeking to explore humans’ relationship with nature. It has an agenda. Some contemporary artists are working on projects that deal with timely environmental issues like climate change. Chris Drury, who is most known for his fantastic woven tree installations, is doing research to make climate change models in art form in conjunction with The Center for Analysis of Time Series in the U.K.. Learn more about his work at http://www.chrisdrury.co.uk/home.htm New Hampshire based eco-artist Tim Gaudreau shares his view that “it is the responsibility of the artist to communicate a relevant vision about our world and society.” His work includes “Lost & Found” type posters that show trash found in wildlife preserves. Gaudreau posted a good definition of eco-art on his website here: http://www.wake-up.ws/eco-art.html

Patricia Johanson’s eco-art is concerned with “impacted ecosystems” in large-scale projects, including some that look like restored wetlands. The Island Institute published a book dedicated to Johanson’s work called, Art and Survival in 2006. Find out more here: http://www.patriciajohanson.com/artandsurvival/index.html For a video of an interview with the artist talking about ecology and a wetlands park, go here. 

On my bulletin board, I have a postcard from a Sandy Litchfield installation called “Captive” that invokes the spirit of Swampthing. With installations titled, “Fill,” “Streamlines,” “Freshwater,” “Around the Lake,” and another called “Plenty of Particulars” that resembles the Cowardin classification system in full color, I wondered if she paid particular attention to wetlands. So I asked her. She told me that her husband is a geo-scientist who works on projects related to climate change, and although conservation issues are important to her, Litchfield is “less inclined to paint about humans as destroyers or polluters of place.” She added, “I’m more interested in how and when humans have felt or expressed intimacy, fondness and love of place. It’s this deep affection that inspires most of my work. Mostly, I want to include the human element in landscape not as an adversary, but as a lover.” See examples of her work at http://www.sandylitchfield.com/

My friend and fellow human ecologist, Josie Rassat, donated some of her wetland-themed art to ASWM last year. Josie says, “Cycles, balances of life, death and reproduction are central themes in my illustrations. I create art like compost: a complex mixture of old growth with organic materials becomes stimulating, earthy substance.” Her saltmarsh series is here: http://www.mixedgreensstudio.com/pages/

Many artists have been creating art in the aftermath of Katrina events. Claire Fenton is a fiber artist working in Louisiana. Some of her pieces are called, “Katrina,” “Riverscape,” “Winter Swamp.” Find samples of her work, e.g. http://www.clairefenton.com/mixed-media-gallery.asp Edward Richards’ photographs document Katrina’s impact:http://www.epr-art.com/katrina/

Check out this blog all about wetlands featured in art:http://artinwetlands.wordpress.com/

Meanwhile these art museums look more like alien ships that have landed in a wetland:http://www.designboom.com/weblog/cat/9/view/6939/studio-pei-zhu-xixi-wetland-art-museum.html

Or this “elevated wetland” art installation in Toronto (2006)http://www.treehugger.com/files/2006/12/elevated_wetlan_1.php

Wetland poster art can be found here: http://www.zazzle.com/wetland+posters

Bolsa Chica Wetlands art photos by Eddie Meeks http://good-times.webshots.com/album/568237015qPNEEX

Eco Art by Debbie Mathew (Discovery Pond: Wetland Art) based in Wyoming with illustrations by 6th graders learning about a local wetlandhttp://www.debbiemathew.biz/CommunityWorks_WebPub/CommunityWork_Discovery.htm

For more information about eco-art and to find eco-artists, visit:http://www.greenmuseum.org/

Listen to the Call of the Wild…on your cell phone

Have you ever wanted to toss your phone out the window because you just get so sick of hearing that same ding-dong song? Well now you can answer the call of the wild! The Center for Biological Diversity offers a new list of free cell phone ringtones available for download. If you have a cell phone, you can set the ringtone to sound like the calls of rare and endangered species, such as a beluga whale, Stephen Colbert, Jr. (the famous North American eagle), the Cascades frog of the Northwest, the crawfish frog of the southeastern U.S., the Florida panther, a Grizzly bear, screech owls, the Southwestern willow flycatcher, whooping crane and an alligator. If you want, you can organize your contact list so that each member of your family, along with a few friends and colleagues, each gets an animal call for their number. Then when you’re at the office and you suddenly hear a screech owl, you’ll know it’s your mother-in-law calling, or if you’re perusing the produce section at the supermarket and hear the haunting call of a humpback whale, you’ll know it’s your best friend calling to spout off some news. For example, I’d assign the Grizzly bear to my dad’s phone number because he reminds me of Grizzly Addams. My grandmother would get the loon and my brother, the wolf. Be careful not to assign the whooping crane to anyone you hear from often, as one “whoop” goes a long way. Also, if you download the sound of the rattlesnake, and take your cell phone hiking, be careful you don’t spook the other hikers if you expect a lot of calls. I’ve decided to download one of the owls for my cell phone, so I always know hoots calling.
http://www.rareearthtones.org and http://www.rareearthtones.org/ringtones/

Update March 2012: Alligator and swamp sounds for your phone:

Bog Bodies: Not for the Faint of Stomach

I get sucked into crime television dramas-“Bones,” a show about a forensic anthropologist, is currently my favorite. One episode involved a corpse found in a bog, which had preserved the remains and helped the fictitious Dr. Brennan solve the mystery of the bog man. A simple Google search reveals that “bog bodies” are a popular topic of research and interest. Also called, “bog people,” they illicit curiosity, how did this person die? How old are the remains? Human remains left in bogs can be preserved for hundreds if not thousands of years. For example, in ancient Aztec bogs, bodies were held in place with wooden stakes; National Geographic had a special program that explored this phenomenon. There’s even a scary movie coming out this year called, “Legends of the Bog,” which takes place in rural Ireland (Note: the USA version is simply called, “Bog Bodies,” which comes out this June.) Here are a few links to sink into bogs with bodies:

Tales of the Living Dead: Bog Body and Aztec Death (National Geographic TV)

Bog Body

Preserved bodies tell the tale of ancient ‘bog people’
The Paramus Post – April 2006 http://www.paramuspost.com/

Reluctant Time Travelers – Bog Bodies of Europe (1997)

“Bog bodies” (scroll down this blog for the entry about bog bodies)

Bodies of the Bog

Legends of the Bog (movie – 2009)
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0928375/ andhttp://www.bogbodiesthemovie.com/story_2.php

My Ode to Swampthing

“The Swamp is my world
It is who I am… It is what I am
 I was once a man,
I know the evil men do
Do not bring your evil here, I warn you…
Beware the wrath of… Swamp Thing!”
– from the TV series, “Swampthing”

As a pre-teen girl, swimming in the river, I sometimes pretended to be Swampthing.  I don’t remember ever watching the TV show that ran for a while in the early ‘90s (now aired on the Sci-Fi Channel) but I was charmed by the comic book character—the same Swampthing that is included in the Strange Wetlands logo.

I need to pay some overdue homage to “Swampthing,” the comic book hero turned into a 1980s horror flick directed by Wes Craven, who went on to direct the fantastic “Underworld” series, one of my favorites.  “Swampthing” was a scientist who turned into a half-man, half-swamp life form after a lab accident. Swampthing was a hero, as opposed to the tragic tale of the alligator mutant in the 1950s flick, “The Alligator People,” about a failed medical experiment in the Bayou.

The powerful, sensitive Swampthing fought off the bad guys who messed with the wetlands—sort of a smarmy version of Mark Trail. Dick Durock, the actor who portrayed “Swampthing” in the movie and the TV series for 50 episodes, passed away in fall 2009. As an actor wearing 40 pounds of foam rubber in the Florida heat, he showed another kind of dedication to wetlands. Currently there’s talk of a re-make of the movie in 3-D.http://geeksofdoom.com/2009/08/29/new-swamp-thing-movie-being-developed-complete-with-3-d/

In the “Return of Swampthing,” (1987) the misunderstood green man takes on a new love interest: Heather Locklear. She’s a horticulturist and wonders aloud, “why can’t men be more like plants?” After he rescues her and the unlikely lovers return to his domain in the darkest spot in the Everglades, he laments, “I can’t give you the love you want…because I’m a plant.” “That’s okay,” she coos, “I’m a vegetarian.” I can relate to this statement. Naturally, he goes for the pretty blonde in distress over the legendarySwamp Maiden, a more compatible partner.

Because “Swampy,” as he was affectionately known in the TV series, was a 7-foot tall talking plant, there was room for a lot of campy humor amidst the heroic action plot. Meanwhile, the show took on some relevant issues: the evil Dr. Arcane created a worm that would eat its way through the swamp and Swampthinghad to stop the destruction caused by the invading species. In another episode, Swampy had to clean up the wetlands after the evil Dr. Arcane strategically dumped pharmaceuticals into the water. He’s not immune to the harsh chemicals that were illegally dumped—by none other than the evil Dr. Arcane and his team—into the Everglades, where Swampy was poisoned and nearly died. Then there are the mutant mosquitoes! It would seem that this well-loved character encountered many of the challenges that real wetland professionals face, even if a bit clichéd and sometimes stereotyped. Certainly the evil Dr. Arcane was a repeat offender!